Matchless Distinctiveness of the Gospel: Mark 2:21-22

 

21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Dringhouses, York 31st January 2024

In the west, we have largely become unfamiliar with the practice of mending clothes using patches. In most cultures clothes are patched to extend the life of a garment rather than for decorative effect. Nonetheless we all know that some materials are prone to shrink when they get wet or are washed at the wrong temperature, and recognise that if you take an old pair of pre-shrunk jeans patch them with a piece of new cotton fabric, it’s likely that next time you wash your jeans the cotton may shrink and tear away from the denim.A friend of mine enjoyed making his own wine. He bottled the wine in new glass bottles and stored them in a cupboard. The problem is that unless you get the timing right, new wine is likely to continue fermenting. One evening, he came home from work to find that there had been an explosion in the cupboard. The gasses from the fermenting wine had created sufficient pressure to cause the glass bottles to shatter. The fruits of his labours had been reduced to a sticky mess and a pile of broken glass.

It’s important that until the fermentation process is complete, the container in which new wine is stored has a degree of elasticity. In Jesus time, the obvious container was a new wineskin. However, over time, a wineskin would lose its elasticity. If you put new wine in an old wineskin, the result would be a sticky mess.

So, two simple and timeless images – but why did Jesus use them.

The Jewish leaders and Pharisees were dedicated religious people. All of their energy was committed to achieving righteousness before God. They expected others to do the same and all of their teaching was directed towards that goal. It was instructional and detailed. Conform to the rules, not only of the Mosaic Law, but also to the oral traditions of Judaism and you could demonstrate if not prove your own righteousness.  Jesus came along with a very different approach.

‘Jesus knew quite well that he was coming with a message which was startlingly new; and he also knew that his way of life was shatteringly different from that of the orthodox Rabbinic teachers (i).’

He came to introduce something new, not to patch up the old (Wiersbe, p36). To squeeze the Gospel message of divine grace into the existing religious structures would never work. Jesus was not interested in compromising his message to make it acceptable to the established religious order. To do so would be like putting new wine into an old wineskin. You get the point. We need to learn something from that.

John Macarthur describes these verses as representing and affirming the ‘matchless distinctiveness of the Gospel‘. The key point is that Jesus Christ is unique. His power and authority are unmatched in all creation. Christianity is in every sense different from every other religion and every other culture. To water down the message of the gospel in order to make it acceptable to our culture or to other faiths is like patching an old piece of cloth with new, or putting new wine in an old wineskin. It simply won’t work.

‘Salvation is found in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”(Acts 4:12)

(i)    Barclay, Gospel of Mark, Mark2:21-22 (Kindle Loc1494)

The Tax Collector: Matthew 2:13-14

 

‘Once again, Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi, son of Alphaueus sitting at the tax collectors booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

Horsham. 24th January 2024

Jesus had told his disciples that his main purpose was to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. Here he is teaching, and as ever, he quickly attracts a crowd.

In my class at school there was a young man called Martin who was a bit of a bully. When we reached the fifth form (nowdays in the UK it’s called Year 11) we were paraded in front of the careers teacher to talk about what we wanted to do when we left school. I wanted to be a lighthouse keeper (true story). Martin, the bully, wanted to be a tax man, an ambition which he later achieved. His slightly unusual career choice didn’t make him any more popular. There’s a sense in which nobody much likes the tax man.

2000 years earlier, a guy called Levi  had a similar life plan. He was a tax collector (in Matthew’s Gospel he appears with the Greek version of his name, Matthew). He was in Capernaum, collecting taxes from people as they travelled through the town. He was almost certainly working for the man we know as Herod Antipas, who was in place as the local ruler under the protection of Rome. He was, in effect, collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman occupiers. Yet he wasn’t a Roman – he was a Jew.

We don’t know much about Levi. We don’t know whether he had set out to become  a tax man or whether this was the only job he could get. We don’t know whether he was good at the job. We don’t know whether he had been dishonest (and shouldn’t assume that he was}, but many of his peers were. His job was to gather a fixed amount of tax to pay his masters. They weren’t particularly bothered how he did that. Bullying was acceptable, even expected, and they were happy for him to keep any excess above his target which he managed to get. A forceful attitude was helpful, and as you might start to see, if you were good at it, tax collector could be a lucrative job. On the downside, we can assume that Levi was not the most popular man in Capernaum. He was a Jew, but he was outside the mainstream community. He was unclean. He was working for a hated occupying enemy. He was a collaborator.

The picture we have is of him sitting there at his booth, surrounded by coins and the trappings of his trade, haranguing passers by and demanding their taxes. In the noise and bustle of the busy scene, in a dusty and noisy street, this young rabbi walks by.  Jesus lived in the town and it’s unlikely that this was the first time that he’d passed that way. We have seen that it’s probable that everybody in Capernaum knew who Jesus was, but we don’t know whether Levi had actually met him before, but it’s inconceivable that they didn’t know who each other was.

This story appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospel. In all three, Jesus words are the same. ‘Follow me.’ Nothing more. No sermons. No protracted arguments. Just that. ‘Follow me.’ And that’s exactly what he does.

The rules were simple. If a tax collector left his job, the Romans wouldn’t allow him to get it back. Levi did just that.

Here’s the reality. Levi had been working for Herod Antipas, the one who thought of himself as the King of the Jews. Now, he abandons everything to follow Jesus, the one who really was the King of the Jews.

Fast or Feast: Mark 2:18-20

18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, ‘How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not? 19Jesus answered ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is still with them? They cannot as long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

Milton Keynes 29th January 2024

This story appears in each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew 9:14-15; Luke 5:33-35).  In each case it follows the stories of the calling of the tax collector, and the subsequent feast at the house of Levi / Matthew. The emphasis on this sequence of events, picked up in each of the Gospels affirms that the context is important. There is the implication that the feast with the tax collectors and friends may have been taking place at a time when others were fasting. After the horror that Jesus is eating with people who are unclean, comes the despair that he is eating whilst those who are seriously religious are fasting.

Every Jew was required to fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev 23:32). Fasting was also associated in Scripture with times of mourning, despair and appeal to God. Over time, the oral traditions of Judaism had added some very strong additional rules about fasting, including commemorative fasts and twice weekly fasting as an act of piety and commitment. The Pharisees followed these rules to the letter and it is likely that this question arises because Christ and his disciples were engaged in feasting when others were fasting during one of the midweek fasts.

‘How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?

Scripture uses marriage as a metaphor for the relationship between God and his people. In the Hebrew Bible, the worship of other gods is described as spiritual adultery (Jer 3:8 and elsewhere), and Israel described as the bride of God (Jer 31:4 and elsewhere). In the New Testament, the Church is described as the Bride of Christ (eg Rev 19:7, 21:2), presenting the Messiah as the bridegroom.

Most people in the time of Jesus lived relatively frugal lives. Feasting was reserved for the big occasions, and marriage was a big occasion. An occasion not of mourning or despair, but of joy. The marriage feast could last for several days, and there was even a tradition that it was unlawful for those invited to fast during the marriage celebrations.

Jesus answered ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is still with them? They cannot as long as they have him with them.

Once more, Christ is aligning himself with the Jewish understanding of Messiah. Whilst he, the Bridegroom, is with his companions, of course they would not fast. Of course, when the marriage ceremony is complete, the bridegroom is separated from his guests and life returns to normal.

20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

Yet even now, Christ, the Messiah, knows that his path leads to a time when his companions will fast, not because of the Pharisaic requirement, but because they are mourning. Christ points forwards to a time when he, the bridegroom, will not just leave, he will be taken. Even now, Christ, the Messiah, knows that he is on the path to the cross.

Dinner with the Bad Boys: Matthew 2:15-17

 

While Jesus was having diner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many that followed him. When the teachers of the Law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.’

Horsham 25th January 2024

Luke’s Gospel affirms that in following Jesus, Levi left everything behind. ‘He burned his bridges, and enthusiastically invited some of his sinner friends to meet the Lord Jesus.’ (i)

Just occasionally, I feel overwhelmed by God’s grace. It’s not just that he is a gracious God, but it’s that he would consider me, even me, to be worthy of His grace. I know my own life history. I haven’t always been good. I don’t deserve his grace.

This is a story about a man called Levi. This is a story which reassures us that God’s love and grace is for everybody.

Levi was a tax collector. Tax collectors were considered to be really bad people. They were generally excluded from the synagogue and would have no support from the religious community. Here we meet a bunch of them together. They’re eating together. They’re socialising together. We don’t know for sure who the other ‘sinners’ referred to here would have been, but they would have been people who either broke the moral law or failed to observe the scribal law (ii)

As far as the Pharisees are concerned, the idea of associating with these people was wholly wrong. To share a meal with them was unthinkable. Yet here is Jesus in the same house, at the same time, sharing a meal with the bad boys. For a rabbi and his disciples to be having dinner with them was, in the view of the Pharisees, unacceptable.

We have already seen Jesus mixing with those who are physically sick, and we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus and his disciples are now meeting with other people on the fringe of society. We shouldn’t be surprised that the group of religious leaders who were by now following Jesus didn’t like this. Perhaps it was to avoid a confrontational conversation with Jesus that they launch their attack on his disciples.

This was an early stage in Christ’s ministry. His disciples still have so much to learn. It is Jesus who responds to the Pharisees’ questions.

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ (v17)

People who were sick were often regarded as ‘unclean’ and were to be avoided. Until their health was restored they were excluded from taking part in the life of the synagogue, and everyone would avoid them. Unable to work or mix with people at the market, the sick could quickly become desperate and isolated. But of course what they really needed was not religious rules and exclusion – they needed a doctor.

To Jesus, the sinfulness of Levi’s friends did not mean that these were people to be avoided. It meant that they were people in need. They were spiritually unhealthy. They didn’t need to be abandoned in the mire of religious rules and exclusion – they needed a doctor.

Whatever else we learn from this encounter, we learn that Levi, who we also know as Matthew, is a man on the outside of society. He mixes with other people who are on the outside of society. Yet Christ has sought him out. This is the man who leaves everything to follow Jesus and became one of his closest friends. This is the man who becomes an evangelist and apostle. This is the man who came to write the first Gospel.

This is the man whose story should leave us in no doubt that Christ can, does and will extend his welcome, love and grace to anyone. To everyone. Even me. Even you.

(i) Wiersbe p34
(ii) Barclay, Gospel of Mark, Mark 2:15-17

Decision Time! Mark 2: 3-12 (Part 2)

 Some men came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralysed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up, take your mat and walk”? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, 11 ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

 (New International Version)

Horsham, 20th January 2024

This is one of the classic stories of Jesus. You may recall these bits from Sunday School. A paralysed man. The sheer determination of the friends who want him to see Jesus. A crowd of people who meant that they couldn’t through. The damage to the roof of a house.  A healing, and maybe some grumpy leaders.

When you read this slowly, and think about what you are reading, there is so much more going on in this familiar story.  In Part 1 we looked at the first couple of verses, leaving the story when the paralysed man was lowered through the roof to land at Christ’s feet. That’s where we’re picking it up in this post.

At the front of the crowd, watching and listening to Jesus’ every word, are the religious leaders. They have every reason to be there and to see what this young rabbi was up to. ‘Jesus was so popular that the Jewish leaders dared no ignore Him.’(i).  Actually they seem to have came ready to criticise and to spy on Jesus.

Jesus looks down at the sick man. He sees straight into his heart and recognises his need for forgiveness. Jesus forgives. Jesus, the man, declares that his sins are forgiven. The Jewish leaders were shocked. Really shocked. They don’t say anything – they’re probably so angry they can’t talk – but Jesus knows exactly what they are thinking. He looks straight into their hearts, doubtless unsurprised that they saw his declaration of forgiveness as outrageous – as blasphemous. ‘

Jesus knows that they are agitated and angry. Turning to them He asks them a question. ‘Which is easier, to say that the man is forgiven or to heal him.’ In context it’s a really awkward question, and the text suggests that they don’t answer. Only God can forgive sins, and surely only God can offer healing. Having already made them really  angry, now he’s embarrassing them.

Let’s be honest, we all get irritated with people occasionally. Jesus teaches that we are to avoid being angry and all of us – I’m including myself – need to learn that. So, confession time. I have occasionally been angry. Once or twice I’ve been really angry. I’m not proud of it. Some years ago, some people who were, at the time, in authority over me took a series of decisions which have had a profound and lasting negative impact on me and my wife. From my perspective, their action was arrogant, selfish, unnecessary, undermining and outrageous. (Of course, they would tell this story rather differently, and in fact the whole episode was damaging for all of us). To this day I think they were in the wrong, but that isn’t the point, and it certainly doesn’t justify the level of anger which I felt. I was so angry I was almost breathless. I couldn’t speak. I was absolutely furious. I felt physically ill.

Now, in the light of Christ’s teaching I found that confession rather embarrassing. I hope you’ve never experienced anything like that and that you never do, but I rather think that this was the closest I have ever come to the sense of outrage which was felt by the religions leaders who witnessed these events. They knew the Jewish Law and were in absolutely no doubt that Jesus was in the wrong. At this point, they saw Jesus as grossly offensive. I think that they are absolutely apoplectic with rage. Of course it’s easy to say your sins are forgiven, but you just can’t say that! You must not say that. Only God can forgive sins, and here is Jesus who has just told the paralytic in front of all these people that his sins were forgiven. In those few words, Jesus was putting himself in the place of God. He was claiming to be God!’(ii) In terms of crime, few things come close to blasphemy. It is punishable by death. This man is still paralysed on his bed , but Jesus has already said enough to justify a charge which deserves death.

‘But,’ says Jesus, (He’s now speaking directly to the leaders) ‘I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ Now, it’s so easy for us to miss the weight of that phrase ‘Son of Man’. Jesus is rubbing salt in the wound. Here’s the thing. The phrase ‘son of man’ appears repeatedly in Ezekiel (eg Ez: 2:1), where it indicates a human being. But in the book of Daniel ((Daniel 7:13, 8:17), the phrase Son of Man refers to one who is seen in a vision of God and is the one to whom God gives authority. Psalm 80:17 refers to the son of man at the right hand of God himself. You begin to get the picture. The Son of Man refers to someone who is human, and to someone who is God. Jesus just applied this name to himself, and tagged on that  He has again claimed the authority to forgive sin.

Just when they thought they couldn’t be any more angry…  Jesus does something more. Something which to everyone else in the crowd tends to prove that he is God. Jesus heals the man. In front of dozens of witnesses, a man who has been paralysed – everyone knows that he was paralysed – gets to his feet, picks up his bed, and walks around for everyone to see. He does this because this outrageous young Rabbi declared him to be healed. You can’t see the forgiveness, but you can literally see the healing. It’s visible, complete and undeniable. The Jewish leaders and everyone else in the crowd had to come to a decision. You can’t sit on the fence. Either Jesus is a blasphemer, or is He in some way God.

‘This is the question still facing us. You cannot have Jesus just as a great man. You cannot have him as a preacher or a teacher or a healer and say ‘He was a good man, follow him.’ – because either he was the greatest blasphemer in history or he was God. (iii)

In this familiar story, where Jesus – the celebrity healing rabbi – makes the unequivocal claim that He is God. Here is the point where lots and lots of people, a growing crowd of people, were convinced to follow Him. Yet here is the reason why the Jewish leaders see Jesus as fit for nothing but the death penalty. Here, crystal clear, is a huge step on the road to Jerusalem and the cross. Yet even here, is an image of the absolute forgiveness of Christ, and the gift of new life which it offers to those who come to Him.

‘This story is a tiny version of the whole gospel: Jesus teaching and healing, Jesus condemned for blasphemy, Jesus vindicated. The paralysed man’s healing points forward to the new life that Jesus himself will have in the resurrection, and will share with everyone who wants it.’ (iv)

  • Wiersbe p32
  • Wiersbe p33
  • Pawson, p56
  • NT Wright, p.16

 

Forgiven (even for trashing the roof!) Mark 2: 3 – 12 (Part 1)

Horsham, 14th January 2023

 Some men came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralysed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up, take your mat and walk”? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, 11 ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

 (New International Version)

Part 1: Verses 3-5

There is no evidence that Jesus owned this house, but there are indications that this is where he was staying. We know that he spent time at Peter’s house, possibly as a guest. Regardless of circumstances, this was the house to which Jesus went on His return to Capernaum. This was the house where people came to see Him. If the crowd came to see something amazing, they left satisfied.

The press of the crowd is so intense that a small group of men, carrying their sick friend, stood no chance of getting into the house where Jesus was teaching. The traditional houses would have used the roof as an area for storage and retreat in the cool of the evening, and the stairs by which you accessed the roof would be on the outside.

So I’m seeing these guys struggling to get their incapacitated friend through the peripheral crowd to get to those stairs. The patient was lying on a sleeping mat. Carrying a sick man up the steps isn’t easy, and they won’t have been doing this quietly.

Maybe Plan A was to lower him into the yard, right in front of Jesus. As it turned out, Jesus was actually inside the house, so Plan A didn’t work out. So then, one of the friends has an idea. They’ve brought him this far. They can’t drag him back downstairs and they certainly can’t leave him here in the sun. So, they need a Plan B. Even by middle eastern standards, Plan B is a bonkers idea.

The middle east has a wonderful culture of providing hospitality. The gate to the yard was often left open and it was expected that people could wander in. They might be offered water to wash their feet. They might be offered refreshment. They will not be expected to cause damage to the house.

Damaging the roof is a serious business. It leaves the living space open to the elements and  renders the house insecure. Plan B affirms that these guys know that Jesus can heal their friend. These guys are absolutely desperate for their friend to meet Jesus.

Fighting their way through, mainly using their hands and feet as tools, they make a hole large enough for them to lower their friend to the floor below. I can almost hear the shouts of encouragement and the  exclamations of disbelief as the people below, even Jesus, are showered with plaster, mud and debris from the roof. Some of them – especially the house owners – must have been furious. I can see people running to the roof and trying to stop the vandalism.

I wonder whether, when thought of as the active scene that it must have been, this is one of the most dramatic scenes of healing in Scripture.

No wonder Jesus was impressed by faith of this group of this daringly resourceful group. ‘Son,’ he says, ‘you are forgiven of your sins.’ All of them. Even trashing the roof.

 

Capernaum: Mark 2:1-2

Horsham 8th January 2024

1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard hat he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. (NIV)

A few verses ago, Jesus declared his purpose. ‘Let us go […] to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ (1:38). His purpose, in these early days of his recorded ministry, is to preach. Here we see Jesus, returning to the lakeside town – to preach.

You’ve probably heard that sermon where someone says ‘if Jesus walked into this town, or even into this Church, what kind of reception would he get.’ The point is that people might miss the point, even reject Jesus. They might be people who ‘hear but do not understand; who see but never perceive.’ (Isaiah 6: 9).

Here we are in Capernaum. This was Jesus’ home town (Matthew 4:13). This is the place where the visible ministry of Jesus begins.  His healings are legendary. People are flocking to see him – so many that there’s no room left in his yard or his house. People desperate to see more drama. People desperate to see healings. They’re watching – but they’re not understanding that this is the Son of God. The celebrity healer is back in town and they want a piece of that action.

Yet faced with this crowd of people in his own home, what does the celebrity healer do? He preaches the Word of God. So now we have the people of Capernaum listening, but are they hearing?

“No city in Palestine appears to have enjoyed so much of the Lord’s presence during His earthly ministry as did this city. […] But nothing Jesus said or did seems to have had any effect on the hearts of the inhabitants.” (i)

Here is a town where, one bright day, Jesus, the Son of God turned up. Over an extended period of time He performed miraculous healings. He brought the word of God. For the most part, the people of Capernaum listened, but they didn’t hear. They saw, but they didn’t understand.

23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[e] For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” Matthew 11: 23-24 (NIV)

So, while we’re on the subject, imagine that Jesus walked into this town. How would you react?  What kind of reception would He get in your town?

(i) Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Mark, Ryle, Aneko Press, p19

Changing Times

Horsham. 2nd January 2023

For the last few years I’ve been busy. Probably too busy. Around 8 months ago, I felt that God was telling me that I should put stuff down at the end of 2023. So, as of December, I have not renewed my contracts to teach English as a second language. I have set aside, for the time being at least, my responsibilities as an international coach with CCI Worldwide. On Friday, 5th January 2024, I will be putting down my role as Development Coordinator with Horsham Churches Together. Changing times.

You probably know Psalm 46:10 which says ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ As I write this, I’m reminded that in the original Hebrew, the verb which we translate as ‘Be still’, implies a relaxed calmness before God. To come close to that, we need to stop. We need to put things down – empty our hands – and wait on the LORD.

That’s what I’m doing.  Creating time to stop, to wait, to pray, and to listen. Time to be still. Time to be.

 

Waiting

27th December, 2023: Pocklington, Yorkshire 

I wonder whether you have ever sat in a theatre waiting for a musical to start. There’s a sense of anticipation and excitement,  tinged by the fear that someone tall will unexpectedly appear on the seat in front of you and obscure your view. After what always feels like a lengthy wait, the conductor stands up, taps his music stand, and then the band strike up with the overture.  The overture grabs your attention. The burble of conversation stops and there’s a sense of excitement as people eagerly soak up the music. The overture reaches a crescendo, and then comes to an end. There is a moment, often just a very brief moment, of silence. A moment of waiting. A moment of profound anticipation. And then the curtain rises and the performance begins.

After the waiting of Advent, with the anticipation and excitement of the coming Christmas, tinged with the anxiety that someone will spoil it all by testing positive for covid on Christmas Eve, the big day comes. Advent seems to last for ages, and then suddenly Christmas arrives! Christmas Day brings its own sense of excitement and  grabs your attention. The food, presents and family traditions. The day reaches its crescendo and comes to an end. Then, between Christmas and New Year, comes this moment of silence. A time of waiting. A time of profound anticipation.

I always look forwards to the New Year with a mixture of excitement tinged with nervousness. Before it arrives,  the New Year looks like a blank page, waiting for the story of the coming months to be written. It feels fresh and exciting. But of course, I know that there will inevitably be moments in the story of the year to come which will be challenging and disappointing.

For the moment,  I’m in that special place between Christmas and New Year.  It feels a bit like that moment of silence before the performance begins. For me, Christmas has been the overture, reminding me of the greatest story ever told – Immanuel – God with us.  When the musical starts, it’s going to be good. Of course there will be the odd song which I don’t particularly like. One or two scenes will be longer than I might have wished, and several which could have been longer.

The coming year looks challenging. It’s not going to be straightforward. But the God of Advent love and joy, fills me with hope and an inner sense of peace. Whatever the future holds, I am not facing it alone.

‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
Matthew 28:20 (NIV)